TEHRAN, Iran – The commander of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard on Thursday visited three disputed islands in the Gulf that are held by Iran but claimed by the United Arab Emirates, Iranian state media said.
It was the first visit by a high-ranking Iranian military officer, almost a month after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's trip to the islands inflamed the dispute over the territories.
Abu Musa, the largest of the islands, sits on the western edge of the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the route for one-fifth of the world's oil supply. Iran's Revolutionary Guard and the U.S. Navy patrol the narrow waterway, which Iran had threatened to choke off in retaliation for tougher Western sanctions over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
Iranian state TV said the Guard's Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari visited Abu Musa as well as the Greater and Lesser Tunbs. The report said Adm. Ali Fadavi, chief of the Guard's navy, was also part of the visit.
Jafari met Iranian forces on the islands and urged regional countries to cooperate with Iran, the TV said, showing footage of Jafari meeting with the troops.
"We shake in friendship the brotherly hand of all Islamic countries, especially countries south of the Persian Gulf," Jafari said. He urged the region's nations to reject the "hand of global arrogance" — a reference to shaking off American influence — and instead "help each other."
Iran took control of the islands about 40 years ago, after British forces left the region. Tehran maintains that an agreement signed eight years before its 1979 Islamic Revolution between Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the ruler of one of the UAE's seven emirates, Sharjah, gives it the right to administer Abu Musa and station troops there.
There was no agreement on the other two islands. The UAE insists they belonged to the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah until Iran captured them by force days before the UAE statehood in 1971.
Tehran claims the Gulf islands have been part of states that flourished on the Iranian mainland from antiquity until the early 20th century.